News and views on motorsports

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

5 Year Homologation

In a press release by the FIA, a number of decisions were reached by the FIA in consultation with Ferrari (of course!), Renault and Cosworth regarding the 2008 engine regulations. Particularly, on the subject of homologation. Thinking again, the headlines of a few days ago were a little sensationalist. 3 Year Engine Freeze cried a lot of websites.... and that includes me I hate to admit.

However, as I said in a later article, the idea of homologation isn't as bad as it sounds. First off, engine power and safety. Back in the 1980s, the 1.5 litre BMW turbo engine produced some 1270bhp in qualy trim. Porsche never built a qualy special TAG turbo but according to them if they did it'd have done 1500 bhp without blinking an eye. Eye popping power but I think many believed it was just too plain dangerous especially given the sort of power delivery.

Then came the era of the 3.5 litre normally aspirated engines. Again, power outputs began creeping up again. That lasted until 1994, then after that for a long time till this year the 3.0 litre engine. Power outputs again began knocking on the door of 1000 bhp. Again deemed to dangerous (and whatever other reasons), it was agreed to limit the power again.

The pattern is clear. Whenever power outputs rise, there will be calls to reduce that power again. This in turn leads to enormously expensive changes in engine configuration. So, why not simply peg power (and engine designs) to a certain level for the next few years? Homologation works in other forms of racing, so why not Formula 1? As I said in my previous article, if modifications are allowed based upon the homologated power unit (rather than introducing a new engine every year) then it is actually a great idea for cost reduction.

According to the FIA press release, the engine makers are allowed to modify the engines in a number of specified areas. What still gets to me is that only modifications to reduce costs and/or improve reliability is allowed. Modifications to increase power outputs are still not permitted. However, it does mean that modifications to the egg shell like Mercedes engines will be allowed so they won't go exploding every race weekend for 5 years, so long as the FIA are satisfied that the modifications do not lead to an increased level of performance. Although argues GrandPrix.com teams may still be able to increase performance to match the level of other engines. However, once all these engines are performing at similar levels I should think that they'll freeze power outputs. I wonder if you could submit a super powerful V8 in June to be homologated for 2008 and then slowly but surely resubmit engines from then till 2008 that build upon reliability. Probably not.

To be fair, the FIA will need to measure power outputs to ensure that everyone is competing "fairly and equitably." Are they going to start putting engines on dynos before the race? Whatever it is, I think if we're going to have all these cost reducing homologation then perhaps they should have ditched the unpopular two race engine rules. I mean, even a 15kg penalty for each engine failure is still a penalty and in a sport where every gramme counts 15kg is a lot. Penalizing drivers for a engine makers faux pas is unfair. Same goes for the gearbox regulations.

The FIA should allow modifications to increase power. Unless they do, its still against the spirit of Formula 1. Sure there must be limits to the development. And for sure, costs need to be cut for I firmly believe that privateers must survive. However, the act of reaching for greater power and performance (even from a limited or homologated base) should be allowed. That is the essence of racing, whether you're a Saturday night street racer, a karter or Cosworth. Not allowing power developments is simply wrong.

Finally, I think homologation is a good idea but 5 bloody years? Thats just too bloody long. As for the question of the technology allowed in Formula 1 for that homologation period, its still too bloody restrictive. No variable trumpets, no variable valve timing? Ridiculous.

And by technology, I do mean racing technology or the science of going as quick as possible on a road course. Racing is racing. Going to work and picking up the kids from school as economically and safely as possible is everyday motoring. Lets not confuse the issue by mixing them up and trying to make the former relevant to the latter. The spirit of racing has always meant you made a two fingered salute to mundane everyday compromises and concentrated on going as fast as you can with whatever technology that allowed you to do so. That means dropping things like hybrids, alternative fuels, biofuels et al as some (including the FIA) have advocated.

Rebels And CVC

Well, as I expected, the GPMA teams have signed up with the FIA for the 2008 world championship. Of course, they were always going to do this. And why not? It just makes sense to hedge their bets and at least be in a position to discuss the future rules and regulations that are yet to be finalised. In the meantime, the negotiations with the 'commercial rights holders' are on-going although the signs are that these have been positive. This whole saga is not complete until the teams sign on to the new Concorde.

Another reason for optimism is that the GPMA have expressed their approval at the CVC purchase and subsequent approval of the sale by the EU. And today CVC have confirmed their purchase of the Formula 1 commercial rights.

As I said, the whole episode doesn't end until the GPMA teams sign up the Concorde. And of course, the FIA must approve the GPMA entries. However, I shouldn't think that this wouold be a problem for Bernie. After all, the 2008 sporting regulations virtually eliminates all references to the Concorde Agreement. That means that the FIA will have sole discretion to formulate the rules, an option that was not (theoretically) possible under the current Concorde Agreement. One could therefore assume that the 2008 Concorde deals solely with commercial aspects with no references to rights to rule making.

This is what the FIA read Max Mosley wants. Ironic isn't it? Back in the 80s, the FOCA led by Bernie and Max fought hard for the rights of the teams to come up with the technical regulations. Now it seems now that they are in power, they want it all back to the FIA.

Lots of people say that the teams can't be trusted to come to decisions on the regulations. And to some extent, they are correct. The teams are always bickering amongst themselves. When it comes to the teams PlanetF1 for instance loves to use the phrase: "there are no principles just vested interest." Alright then, we now have a dictatorial situation with the FIA fully deciding all the technical regulations (with "consultation" with Ferr... with the teams). But then these people should then not complain when the FIA makes up dumb rules. (A subject for another post)

So with power back in the hands of the FIA, Mosley should have no problems accepting the GPMA team entries. Unless of course, you really believe, that Mosley, for whatever reason, wants them all out in which case whats to stop the FIA from rejecting their entries? Or unless they all can't agree to the commercial terms. That is not something CVC would want however, whatever Bernie gets up to. I think CVC will fold agree to whatever the teams want. Whatever Max's issues with the manufacturers, I think in the long run, Formula 1 needs these guys as well.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Ferrari Not A Manufacturer

GrandPrix.com highlights in this article a clause in the 2008 Sporting Regulations for the FIA Formula 1 that provides:

"43) ............. A major car manufacturer may not directly or indirectly supply engines for more than two teams of two cars each without the consent of the FIA. For the purposes of this Article 43, a major car manufacturer is a company whose shares are quoted on a recognised stock exchange or the subsidiary of such a company."

Now, I've always thought that Ferrari was a subsidiary of Fiat. True, but Ferrari is actually owned by Fiat Group. This group consists of Fiat Auto, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Maserati among others. This means that within Fiat Group, Ferrari is a sister company of Fiat Auto. Fiat Auto in turn is the company that is floated on the Italian Stock Exchange, not the Fiat Group itself.

How nice and convenient for Ferrari. Ferrari make more profits than a lot of "major car manufacturers, " as defined by the Sporting Regulations. Taken as such, even the loathsome Proton would be considered a "major car manufacturer" by virtue of its floatation of the KLSE. Ferrari's profits despite its low volume far outsrips that of Proton and that situation is unlikely to change. And yet, the FIA says that Ferrari is an independent. And you just know what Max Mosley thinks about the distribution of money to the independents and manufacturers, don't you?

Now, according to article 43, a major manufacturer may not supply either directly or indirectly to more than two teams. Focus on the word "indirectly". If I read this correctly then it means a company such as Honda could not supply basic engines and parts to another company such as Mugen for preparation and supply to teams. This isn't out of the question of course and has happened in the past.

However, the regulations does mean that privately held specialist engine makers such as Judd, Cosworth and even Porsche can supply more than a couple of teams. If you believe that Max Mosley intends to rid or at least reduce the sport's reliance on the manufacturers for engine supplies, then the sporting regulations is heading towards it. Although you might say that if Porsche were to enter the sport then counting it as an independent is also suspect. Porsche is the most profitable car company in the world. So profitable that some speculate it will take over "major manufacturer" Volkswagen.

In other news, a meeting between Renault, Cosworth and Ferrari was held at Maranello with Max and cohorts in attendance, to discuss engine homologation proposals. Where were the rest of the manufacturers? Now I've always thought that it was Flavio Briatore who wrote the letter personally to the FIA with the homologation engine freeze proposal, albeit on Renault letterhead. I was under the impression that this was a personal opinion of Flavio's and not necessarily that of Renault. And yet, here are Renault in the meeting. Does this signal an exit from Renault from the GPMA? With Le Cost Cutter in charge at Regie, you can't put it past Renault Sport to want to try to reduce budgets and contain costs. But thats only if you believe that these new regulations will actually reduce costs.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Into The Mind Of Max

Some months ago, I posted an article highlighting Max Mosley's parental lineage. I must admit that in hindsight, the article was a little tasteless and so I would offer my apologies to Max because of it. Sorry Max. However, whatever ambitions Max Mosley had or still has in the political arena is limited because of that lineage. I was reading an article on Racefax (a fascinating must-read one at that called War Diary) and it appeared to me some of the much maligned Mosley's motivations.

It begins with the FIA Foundation. The trustee to this foundation of course is none other than Max Mosley. It was established with the monies from the proceeds of the sale of the commercial rights to Bernie. With it, the foundation champions road safety and conducts "environment and mobility research, and support motor sport safety research." It has been very influential. So influential in fact that Max Mosley was recently made a Chevalier dans l’Ordre de la L├ęgion d’Honneur in recognition to his contribution to road safety work. Evidence of that work can be seen in Europe where all cars are awarded a Euro NCAP safety rating. The Foundation also donates money to promote road safety throughout the world. All this is of course very commendable and one must applaud Max and the FIA Foundation for their contributions.

So as you can imagine there is a link between Formula 1 and the highly prestigious and influential FIA Foundation. This is confirmed by Max and was highlighted in Forrest Bond's article on Racefax, as evidenced by this press release by the FIA. Specifically, this particular statement from Max: "In the end, the FIA has to make sure Formula One works because it isn’t just prestige and things like that, also, in the defence of the ordinary motorist, there are an awful lot of politics and Formula One is a key that opens the door to virtually every politician and that is extremely important to us."

Bingo. there it is. "Formula One..... opens the door to virtually every politician..." As you might expect when the topic is road safety. Quite clever. Can't directly involve yourself in politics, then simply go through a different route. In many places in the world and even in the place I call home, people have a very dim view of politicians as nothing more than greedy shites out for power, glory and of course money ably aided by cronies. Perhaps Max has a more noble agenda in promoting road safety. Perhaps he's simply out to be seen as doing some good especially given his family's dubious heritage. Well, I think the FIA Foundation is a worth cause. I may be wrong but I see no evidence to the contrary.

Given that "Formula One.... is extremely important to us" it becomes clear to the rest of us just why he rules it with such an iron hand. The motivation you see is not simply the wanton exercise of power over a bunch of manufacturers and teams, its rather more than that. The Racefax article asserts that Max's intentions are none other than to remove the manufacturers from Formula 1 because as according to Frank Williams, "they're just too powerful for his liking." Indeed they are armed with endless amounts of money to pay for extremely bright lawyers. Max and Bernie aren't dealing with racing folks here (read team bosses), the manufacturers are hard businessmen. The manufacturers have their demands and they know the power they wield. Bernie may have been able to pull the wool over the likes of Ron Dennis and Frank Williams but BMW, Mercedes, Toyota et al are an entirely different kettle of fish. These folks have power themselves and could bring that power to bear on the FIA Formula 1 world championship in a manner inconsistent with Max Mosley's objectives.

The evidence is in the regulations. In the last few years and continuing on from here till 2010, Max is introducing a whole bunch of crazy regulations that are very much against the objectives of the manufacturers. Specifically, those regulations severely limit the scope for innovation and differentiation, something very much desired by the manufacturers to make involvement in the sport worthwhile. Money is not a factor for these folks. Neither the revenues from the sport nor the budgets required to win are importnat. The technology and attendant marketing exposure and prestige are very much so.

Yet here is Max drafting up some crazy regulations designed to piss these manufacturers. The forced introduction of the V8 engine so irked Mercedes, BMW and Honda that they threatened legal arbitration on the FIA. By rights, the Concorde agreement guarantees engine regulation stability. However, Max, invoking safety and cost concerns, managed via a safety clause in the Concorde, to force three bits of regulations through. These were the V8 engines, the one tyre per race rule and the two weekend engine rule. (*** See Postscript below). All of them incurring the wrath of the manufacturers.

In the end, Mercedes dropped the legal threat on the grounds that by the time the case would be heard, the V8s would already have been well under development. BMW and Honda though dropped their case after a meeting with Max. This was last year and I had highlighted this bit of curiosity in an article, with no conclusion. Its anyone's guess why these companies dropped the case. Perhaps they followed Mercedes' reasoning. Or maybe if I were being naughty, Max convinced them by rattling Euro NCAP or some other road safety matter in their faces. That would have had far bigger business implications for these manufacturers beyond the microcosm of Formula 1.

The Racefax article also cleared up another unsolved mystery. Well it was a mystery to me at least. And this was Paul Stoddart's behaviour in Melbourne last year. As we all know, he turned up with Minardis in 2004 spec which the FIA stewards denied, then sought a court injunction against the FIA to let his 2004 spec Minardis race and then turned up the next day with Minardis fully converted to 2005 spec bodywork. What really happened that day illustrates Max Mosley's political excellence.

Paul did indeed go to the courts seeking an injunction pending a legal case against the FIA. The case centered around key points of the Concorde Agreement that touch upon rule stability. Basically, the FIA read Max Mosley had acted against the provisions of the Concorde by forcing his 3 regulations on the teams. This being about the V8s, two race weekend engines and single race tyres. The judge agreed that there was a case and ordered the injunction pending the case. Maximillian, the clever sod, simply contacted the Australian sporting authorities, with a threat that if this case were upheld or even if the injunction was exercised, Austrlia would never again see any international motorsports ever again. No more Formula 1 and no more World Rally Championship.

Paul Stoddart, not wanting such horrible reprecussions on his nation, withdrew the injunction and the case and complied with the 2005 rules. You knew however, that behind Paul, was a whole bunch of teams and manufacturers. Yes, those folks who were absolutely up in arms that key points in the Concorde Agreement were simply bulldozed away by Max. The manufacturers themselves, fully aware about the negative image any legal action might have, had the perfect candidate in Paul Stoddart to bring about legal proceedings.

From the above you can now understand the GPMA's repeated calls for transparency in the commercial and regulatory aspects of the sport.

When Ferrari broke ranks signed up to the new 2008 Concorde, he gained a most powerful ally. Ferrari with parent Fiat broke, needed the extra cash and of course would do very well if they had a major hand in crafting the future regulations. The FIA in turn needs Ferrari because this team more than any other draws in the fans to Formula 1. Is it any surprise that these days folks like Jean Todt and Ross Brawn keep calling for budgets to be reduced? They're describing their predicament and throwing support fully behind the FIA.

All the while though, in the public eye and in the media, Max comes up smelling like roses. To the casual fan, he's a champion. The manufacturers are the ones painted as greedy, egotistical. And Max has a very clever way of twisting words around in such a way that ridicules whatever statement anyone makes against him. Just look at how Michelin was treated. The funny thing is, that looking at some of the comments on forums and errmmm... other blogs, some people even think his position as FIA president is merely a poor scapegoat against the big bad carmakers.

You might even think from reading some of his statements that these manufacturers are downright evil and that they deserve no money whatsoever from the sport. Digressing slightly, Ferrari covers their ass by asserting that they are not a manufacturer, rather they should be thought of as independents. Oh hell yeah. An "independent" that makes 5000 cars a year quite profitably. So profitably in fact, its profits dwarf that of giant Renault! Yeah, Luca, you're an independent f****** i****.

I have to sat though, that much as I hate the Max Mosley's regulations and behaviour, you have to admire the man for his methods. He is, as the English would say, a clever bastard. And intelligence, no matter how devious deserves some admiration. It helps him that things like the Concorde Agreement are confidential and away from the public eye. That way he moves around in secret all the while making everyone else look like the devils. The manufacturers and team bosses aren't all that innocent but they deal with a most formidable man. A man who seems to have bigger ambitions than simply dealing with a bunch of racing teams to be sure but one who uses those same racing teams to further those ambitions.

(***) Postscript: Apologies to CCCP. The current regulations are not intended to limit Ferrari's dominance nor are they as I had argued to you that they were intentionally favourable to Ferrari. Its much bigger than that as you can see.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Comments

Despite Toyota being slowest in testing at Paul Ricard, Ralf Schumacher seems bullish about his prospects in Australia next weekend. Thats a good luck to you Ralf. Interesting thing about the tests in Paul Ricard is that Heikki Kovalainen, despite doing a mammoth 200+ lap testing session managed to end up quicker than Pedro de la Rosa in the McLaren. Pedro, incidentally was doing a number of one lap qualy type runs in his tests, concentrating on Imola tyre selection. I'm not sure whether the times include these qualy runs, for if it did, it doesn't bode well for McLaren's pace. Nevertheless, Ron Dennis seems rather optimistic for Melbourne.

Whatever the case may be and despite a good show by Renault last weekend, 2006 seems a most unpredictable year. I don't think anyone can predict the relative performance of any car from one weekend to the next with any great accuracy. Still, one bookmaker I checked recently, placed Fernando Alonso as firm favourite for the title, giving his odds at evens. Kimi Raikkonen is next up followed closely by Michael Schumacher, then Giancarlo Fisichella and Jenson Button.

Speaking of Herr Schumacher, this curious article appeared on GrandPrix.com. It begs the question, why wasn't Michael waved through to take fifth ahead of Massa at the Malaysian Grand Prix? Especially since any wave through could have been explained away as tyre wear on Massa's one stopping Ferrari. Yes, this did seem strange to me even as I watch the final laps of the race. I fully expected Massa to do a Jarno Trulli and offer no resistance to his teammate in turn 1. But it never did come. And yet, Michael clearly had a speed advantage over Massa if you observe their lap times. Well, I'd like to think that Filipe gave the folks on the pitwall a two fingered salute each time he passed by them on the start finish straight, everytime the call came. However, I guess we're unlikely to find out the truth to this one anytime soon. After all, it would not pay for the Ferrari team to admit to issuing team orders.

Glad to see that a lot of fans seem to think that the 3 year engine freeze proposed by the FIA is complete bollocks. The results of the ITV-F1 poll still running currently shows that 93% of viewers believed that the engine freeze simply is not what Formula 1 is all about. Max Mosley claims that fans do not care of the "hidden technologies" of Formula 1. I have a suspicion that in fact a lot of people do care for it very much and lap it up as those technologies are revealed in books and publications.

Despite my objections, I know there's nothing much I can do to change the sporting regulations for 2008. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the use of the word "homologation" when defining the engine freeze. The word of course conjures images of sports, touring and rally cars where vehicles are homologated for competition after the production of a specified number of examples for the road. Nothing wrong with that in the context of tintop or sports cars. Once cars are homologated the chassis and engines can be modified as they wish. In fact, it wouldn't be too bad if Formula 1 followed that example. Development still occurs in homologated series. Its just that the basis of development is the homologated chassis or engine.

I agree that homologation is actually a good basis for cost reduction. In saloon car racing, you can modify the engine but the engine itself must have been homologated and is in production for road use. But how do you tell when a Formula 1 engine is new or is merely an evolution? I'm pretty sure some experts could tell and thats what Max intends to do.

However, the sporting regulations talk about engines "being identical" to the engine delivered and held by the FIA. Then there's the famous clause that states that if an engine is modified and resubmitted it must satisfy the FIA and other suppliers that the engine could "fairly and equitably" be allowed to compete with other homologated engines. I can only conclude that the FIA does not want the engines to be touched at all once submitted. And this is really where it is against the spirit of Formula 1.

In short, homologation is alright but freezing modifications and further evolution is not in my book. Come on Max. People seem to think that you want to put Formula 1 back into the 70s and there's very little anyone can do about that. But surely you must agree at that even the old Cosworth DFV was modified for every year (decades!) that it was in use.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

This Is Nuts

Well, the GPMA may have expressed their support for the sale of SLEC to the CVC but if I were one of the manufacturers this latest bit of madness from the FIA is surely to drive me up the wall. The FIA in the draft 2008 regulations is proposing that:

"Only engines which have been homologated by the FIA in accordance with Appendix 6 may be used at an event during the 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons."

The said Appendix 6 provides that:

"
1. A homologated engine is an engine identical in every respect to :

(i) an engine delivered to the FIA prior to 1 June 2006 or,
(ii) an engine delivered to the FIA after 1 June 2006, or modified and re-delivered to the FIA after 1 June 2006, which the FIA is satisfied, in its absolute discretion and after full consultation with all other suppliers of engines for the Championship, could fairly and equitably be allowed to compete with other homologated engines.

All such engines should be delivered in such a condition that the seals required under Article 85(d) can be fitted. Engines will be held by the FIA throughout the homologation period.

2. The supplier of a homologated engine and/or the team using the homologated engine must take and/or facilitate such steps as the FIA may at any time and in its absolute discretion determine in order to satisfy the FIA that an engine used at an Event is indeed identical to the corresponding engine delivered to and held by the FIA.
"

In short people, the crazy folks at the FIA are proposing a 3 year engine freeze. 3 bloody years! I don't know about you, but I think this absolutely not Formula 1 anymore.

In a surprising twist however, this proposal was not a Max Mosley original. A previous article on Pitpass mentioned that in a letter to the FIA, it was Flavio Briatore that proposed these rules. It seems that Flavio urged the GPMA members to sign the new Concorde and proposed a number of other measures to "cut costs" including the standard ECU (I'm all for that actually) and get this, a freeze on chassis development as well.

I particularly like this bit in Appendix 6: "... and after full consultation with all other suppliers of engines...."

That should really read : after full consultation with our favourite pet, Ferrari.

And of course I'll bet that Ferrari will be given an absolute magic wand to resubmit a modified and re-delivered engine after 1 June 2006. After all the FIA seemed to agree that their flexi wings, in contravention of the technical regulations are legal items. Whereas McLaren's rear brake steer circa 1998 developed with full consultation with the FIA was banned after protests from Maranello. (** See postscript below)

Alright, putting aside my prejudice, how does the FIA or the other manufacturers for that matter determine that an engine "could fairly and equitably be allowed to compete with other homologated engines?" Oh well, when in doubt they'll probably just ask Ferrari.

Sorry, there I go again. But seriously speaking, this is just inviting more arguments into the sport. Recently, Super Aguri was admitted into the world championship without much ado. But its probably because no one expects them to be any threat at all. Not at this stage anyway. But say, Volkswagen Audi / Porsche wishes to compete I'm sure there will be plenty of discussion as to whether they would compete "fairly and equitably".

And as a fan of Formula 1 and of technology, do I really want to see no progress for three bloody years? And should Mercedes come up with another shoddy engine, do I really want to see a McLaren fighting for last place for three years? There has got to be a better way to do this.

And what happens if for some reason Max Mosley decides in 2008 that this is all wrong and he wants another change of the rules? We've got all these homologated engines with the FIA lying around with costs already sunk. Suddenly, the manufacturers are going to cry foul and protest about researching and producing new engines, incurring more costs, the homologated engines being wasted, so on and so forth.

I really hope my understanding of this situation is incorrect and that Formula 1 doesn't degenerate into this. Ideally I think everyone would like a simple set of rules that promote technology and innovation instead of all this mucking about by the FIA.

As for saving costs. I think the problem is simple. In the first place, the commercial rights for Formula 1 which takes in all television and other revenues from the sport, shouldn't have been flogged off to bloody SLEC and now CVC in the first place. The Formula One Constructors Association, forerunner to the Formula One Administration (or whatever they call it) was originally intended to ensure all the teams got a fair share of the revenues. Bernie should have been fighting for the teams as was the original intent of the FOCA, not to make himself rich with his magic tricks in the fine print. If all the revenues were available to the teams as is their right, then many great teams now long gone would have survived till today.

Now, years on the rights have passed hands once again to CVC. Of course the stiffs there will want a return on their bloody billion dollar purchase. But that return ought to be in the hands of the teams not some bloody investors more interested in the money than any notion of sport. The only recourse I suppose that Max and Bernie can think of to stop more teams from leaving and to attract more teams is to put in these artificial and complicated rules in to "save costs." Dubious measures to save costs are one thing. It would have made more sense to offer these folks revenue instead. But the lions share of those revenues went to Bernie mostly and now to a lesser extent CVC.

The result is the status quo we have today. Bernie may have led the sport into unprecedented worldwide attention it enjoys today but simultaneously it has led to its degradation.

I know in these times everyone is trying so hard to save Formula 1 and there is a spirit of reconciliation and private discussion among the parties. But to me, the sweet has turned sour. If anyone, be it GPMA or some others were to come up with an alternative grand prix series without these complications and of course with worldwide television coverage, I know which series I'd rather watch. There have been controversial proposals in the past 20 years but never have I seen such madness as these today.

(**) Postscript: Sorry folks I just couldn't let it slide. Berrylium, used in Mercedes engines, was banned in Formula 1 back in 2000 or so after Ferrari raised a protest over the material. They cited a safety concern or specifically fire risk. All the while the greatest fire risk is still refuelling which was only brought back into Formula 1 because Ferrari needed it to compensate for the thirsty V12 engines. The real reason for calling for a ban on berrylium was because Maranello could not obtain a monopoly supply of it. The cads. But the point here is: When Maranello wants something it gets it.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Malaysian Grand Prix

At the end of last year, I speculated that Renault wouldn't be as strong in 2006 as they had been in 2005 due to the fact that they were late with releasing their V8 engines and also they've had very little experience with V8 racing engines in general. I'm glad to admit that I was totally wrong.

The Renault team in fact has consistently been underrated by many this year. Just look at the various results of internet polls. However, at Sepang, the testing form in winter has proven to be correct. Renault was very much in control and dominated proceeding with only the Honda of Jenson Button being able to keep pace.

If I had thought that Ferrari would be challenging in Sepang after their Bahraini performance, I'm also glad to admit my error there. Yes, I realise Michael Schumacher started from 14th and Filipe Massa shared the back row with Ralf Schumacher. However, if you examine the Ferrari race pace, it is not impressive. Whilst Fisichella, Alonso and Button were consistently lapping in the 1m 35s bracket throughout the race, Michael Schumacher was struggling to beat 1m 36s. The Ferrari team admits that Schumacher's lack of pace is perplexing. Nevertheless, they did not impress as some were hoping.

Fernando Alonso is truly shaping up to be a master class in grand prix racing. Hampered by an overfueled car at the start of the race, his pace towards the end was simply blistering. His fastest lap of 1m 34.8s is faster than Kimi Raikkonen's fastest lap at Sepang in 2005. And Fernando is actually losing 150bhp or so using the RS26 V8 as compared to the ten cylinder Mercedes engine in Kimi's car. Although you could argue that tyres this year are significantly softer than last year's rock hard variety. Still, the man makes very few errors. In fact, he's yet to make any significant ones in the race this year. Last year, he clipped the wall in Montreal and that was basically it.

Quite how one so young can drive so confidently, quickly and consistently defies belief. He's just rock solid quick. Fisichella may have won from pole but he did make a mistake in turn 4 at Sepang towards the end of the race. An unforced error at that since by that stage his teammate had been told to turn down the wick. Still Fisichella's been brilliant though I suspect that had Alonso been correctly fueled he'd be in front at the chequered flag.

Take nothing away from Fisichella, he's had more than his share of bad luck and he deserves this victory. Jenson Button tried hard but in the end simply couldn't live with Fisichella's pace up front. The Honda still hasn't got the race pace to match its stunning performance in free practice.

A pity both Williams retired from the race. Mark Webber was hounding the admittedly heavy Alonso at the early stages. However, I think they definitely had enough pace there to beat Juan Pablo Montoya's McLaren. Nico Rosberg qualified an excellent third on the grid. However, his inexperience tells. Too much wheelspin at the start, Nico probably lost places for both Williams by tussling with Webber going into turn 1. Fernando Alonso quite smartly went round the both of them into turn 1.

All in all, this race was pretty uneventful when compared to last week's race at Sakhir. However, Renault have definitely stamped their authority on this year's championship. Kimi Raikkonen was not around for this race having been tagged by Christian Klein on lap 1. It would have been interesting to see how well he would have gone otherwise. However, the McLaren's pace is still quite suspect.

On to Australia. I expect the cooler tempratures there should favour the Ferrari's Bridgestone rubber as it did in previous years. But don't be surprise if Renault once again comes out on top. They have done a magnificent job once again.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Mole And NASCAR

So it seems with coinciding the recent reshuffling at ITV, The Mole is now come to GrandPrix.com. Before going on further about The Mole, I must say that some folks have been quite critical of ITV and its recent changes, particularly in the UK. To the rest of world and here in Malaysia, the quality of the show has hardly changed or diminished.

To those who would like to see James Allen in front of the firing squad, let me assure you there are far worse people than he. Take Steve Slater of Star Sports (Sky Sports) for instance. If you thought James Allen was bad, this man makes the mentally challenged seem like Einstein. Every commentator has their favourites. Both James Allen (allegedly) and Steve Slater (definitely) have a thing for Herr Schumacher the elder. Whilst James is rather controlled about his enthusiasm for Michael, Steve Slater barely conceals it, drowning us with speeches of "Michael Magic." Its disgusting. If Michael were to tell Steve Slater to pull his pants down and bend over, I just bet he'd do it. As usual, both these characters are ably aided by their co-commentators, Martin Brundle and Chris Goodwin, both racing drivers. Thank god for their knowledge and insight.

Was it any different with Murray Walker? Whilst a lot of people have a soft spot for Murray, I always thought he bordered on senile. He too had his favourite which was Nigel Mansell. For him, The Tash could hardly do wrong. Plus they're both British so the biasness was even more apparent. I used to switch over to Eurosport instead. Alright maybe John Watson's a bit dry but at least I didn't have to hear Murray squeal on about the great moaner and drama queen. If it weren't for James Hunt and later Martin Brundle I would have never watched another BBC then ITV broadcast again ever.

So anyway, back to The Mole. Not long with GrandPrix.com, he's already fully immersed in their culture. Which is to say, drivelling on and on about bloody NASCAR. Pretty soon, The Mole will be advocating promoting Formula 1 in some silly Hollywood production about some silly Beetle to gain younger fans. I was 10 when I first watch a Grand Prix on TV. I didn't need some stupid movie to get me hooked on it, although I must say the owner of the said Beetle in that movie is rather delightful.

If GrandPrix.com is so in love with NASCAR, I suggest they focus on NASCAR instead. The commercialism is so rampant, and the sport itself with its constant rule adjustment reeks of World Wrestling Federation. And yet, there are those who would want Formula 1 to follow the same route. All the commercialism and corporatization in the sport to my mind is ruining it. Its rather like if Ferrari were to open up a crass and classless showroom in some casino hotel in Las Vegas. Oh, wait a minute..... they did!!

I know those involved with the sport want to make more and more money through an ever growing fan base. Websites and publications included. But think for a moment. All those new fans will attract a whole load of new sponsors wanting to reach those fans. Good for the teams and Bernie's profit margins. Great for folks like GrandPrix.com who will get more readership. But with ever increasing sponsorship means teams will spend more. How do you think the spending war began? And then we get all sorts like two weekend engines, 4 weekend gearboxes and dumb ass twin wings all in order to "save costs" which are not only complex and silly but also downright artificial. Just like NASCAR.

I guess I'd like a "purist" sport. Simple or at least stable regulations that promote innovation. I'd like a sport where drivers can be human beings and show some character rather than be some corporate drone with an artificial smile and PR sanitized speeches forced on by their corporate sponsors / paymasters to put on "The Show" and keep the "good name" of the corporation.

Just give us straight forward television coverage. The next generation of fans will discover it somehow because the sport has always been good, even during days of Ferrari, Williams and McLaren domination.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Bahrain Grand Prix

I'm quite certain, as most people might be, that after watching the race in Sakhir that we're in for one heck of a season. Whilst Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso might have looked like they were running away in the lead, in truth the four teams that were expected to feature this year have indeed proven themselves.

At the front, I thought Fernando Alonso drove like a true world champion. In my opinion that Ferrari is still ultimately the quicker car but Fernando drove a faultless race, combined with brilliant pitwork and strategy to win. If this were 1996, Michael Schumacher would definitely have produced the mere tenths needed to take the race lead after Fernando's second pitstop. This is 2006, and I agree with Martin Brundle when he says that Fernando and Kimi both have that slightest of edge to beat Michael in a straight fight. A straight fight it certainly was today and Fernando won fair and square. The 7 time world champion in my view is showing his age. No doubt the basic speed is still there and there will be days this year where that'll be enough to take races. Though I will say that had Michael succeeded in passing Alonso in the pits, he'd have left Alonso.

And what of Kimi? He fought back from dead last to finish on the final step on the podium. You have to hand it to him, had he started from a decent grid slot, it might have been his race. McLaren ran a one stop strategy for Kimi which must have taken its toll on the tyres. Still, the speed is definitely there. After those testing troubles in the winter, the McLaren team must be encouraged. And ye gods, the Mercedes engine actually held. Both of them. Though, Montoya did complain that his engine was down on power.

Down on power also was Fisichella. The man retired with hydraulic failure in the end. His run of Renault bad luck continues on.

Nico Rosberg is definitely going to get a few calls this year after his stunning debut performance. I'll bet if he hadn't needed that front wing change, he would have definitely beaten teammate Mark Webber. Nevertheless, he exhibited an uncommon maturity given his young age and he's one of those drivers who simply adapts very quickly to Formula 1 life. Brilliant driving and brilliant at overtaking as well. You can tell he's fresh from GP2 where overtaking is a way of life. Both Christian Klein and veteran Coulthard got it good from the young Finn / German.

Surprising to me today was Button. The Honda is a quick car and yet Jenson wasn't able to translate that into race challenging form. Better luck next time I hope for Jense. Better luck for Barrichello as well. I still think that the Honda can and will take victories this year.

One team that needs to win but has absolutely no chance is Toyota. They were unlucky not to get a debut victory last season as Spa but looking at their challenger this year, its absolutely hopeless.

Looking forward to my home grand prix next weekend. A Renault team member told me last year that Sepang is an abrasive sort of circuit. Not the cheese grater like Barcelona of course but it does eat up rubber. We should see just how good the Michelin tyres are compared to the Bridgestones. And it should give us a better indication of this season.

Bahrain Qualifying: A Red Day

I still think an unlimited lap or 12 lap qualifying would have been better but this new qualifying system has its moments. The first part was particularly fraught as cars rushed to get their laps in and make it to the second part. Once again Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren succumbed to mechanical failure though this time not because of the accursed Mercedes engine. This time it was a rear lower wishbone failure.


Michael Schumacher has finally equalled Aryton Senna's record. Whilst his lap time were mere hundreds away from teammate Filipe Massa and tenths away from the Honda of Button and Renault of Alonso and Montoya's McLaren, one would have thought that he would he could have gone quicker still. Indeed this was confirmed by tech boss Ross Brawn. According to Brawn they went for a conservative qualy strategy.

What has impressed is the Ferrari's pace all weekend during practice. During the final practice session, the Ferraris and Michael in particular seem to have been able to turn on the speed at will. Whilst Button's Honda made it to the top of the timesheets, nevertheless Button drove twice the number of laps that Michael did. Every time someone did a few laps and went to the top of the timesheets, Michael simply went out and easily blitzed them. An ominous sign for the rest.

The world champion is incorrect in saying that those who had been testing in Bahrain were wasting their time. Its clear the Ferraris have stolen a march on the rest of the field. Well, lets see how those Bridgestones compare with the Micheins in the race today. However, the Ferraris look very impressive to me at this stage. Darn it.